The Pittsburgh Steelers have run 81 third-down plays so far this season. Their average distance to go on those plays is 6.9 yards. That is not so good, and to illustrate that, allow me to point out the fact that that average third-down distance to go is tied for the 12th-worst in the league.
They haven’t been too hamstrung by it, however. They do rank 12th in third-down conversion percentage at 42%. They have gained an average of 6.4 yards per third-down play, which is tied for the eighth-most yards per third-down play in the league. But they have to start more consistently putting themselves in better third-down situations, as offensive coordinator Matt Canada understands, especially when it results in them throwing short of the sticks in 3rd and 10.
A lot of that falls back to first and second down and getting into manageable situations, which, in certain games, we’ve done a good job of that, and then in other games, we haven’t”, he told reporters earlier in the week, via transcript. “Or we’ve had the penalties, which are a concern and an issue and something we’re not going to run away from. We’ve got to be better. We’ve got to not stop ourselves”.
No doubt, penalties have been an issue as well, particularly penalties along the offensive line, both pre-snap and post-snap, though the pre-snap penalties have been the most frustrating. There was a game earlier this year in which every single lineman was penalized at least once, some multiple times.
“Certainly, sometimes, matchup-wise, those things occur, but we can’t do it to ourselves”, Canada said of failing to stay on schedule on first and second down. “We can’t have any self-inflicted wounds. We’ve got to be better at that…All of that comes into play: time, protection, getting the ball out of your hand. All of that adds up. The shorter the distance, the easier that is”.
The closer you are to the sticks, after all, the less likely you’ll be to feel forced to throw short of them. It’s not that simple, of course, because defenses will play to the line to gain, but it’s always easier to convert on 3rd and 2 than it is on 3rd and 9.
The Steelers have converted 17 out of 19 third-down attempts this season on which they had three or fewer yards to gain for a first down, with two incomplete passes, one of them being a deep target against the Broncos that was defended.
But that’s an exceptionally high conversion rate, nearly 90 percent. Which is exactly why you want to make sure that you’re doing what you need to do on second down, so that you’re not cutting your chances of keeping the drive alive in half, or worse.